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’80s Country Hitmaker Michael Johnson Dead at 72

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Singer Michael Johnson, who posted a string of successful country songs in the 1980s, has died at the age of 72.

According to a message on his website, Johnson died Tuesday night (July 25) at home in Minneapolis, Minn., after what’s described as “a long illness.” No further details are available.

Johnson was involved in a number of genres over his long career but was best known for his 1978 pop hit “Bluer Than Blue,” which reached No. 12 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary charts.

Born in Colorado in 1944, Johnson first took up the guitar as a teenager, Billboard reports. He won a talent contest after graduating college at Colorado State University, which led him to a recording contract with Epic and the release of his unsuccessful debut single, “Hills.”

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After a stint studying classical guitar at the invitation of Andres Segovia in Spain, Johnson returned to America and played in a succession of groups, including a run with a pre-fame John Denver in both the folk group the Chad Mitchell Trio and Denver, Boise and Johnson. Johnson also performed off-Broadway before returning to a solo career with 1973’s There Is a Breeze.

His recorded two indie albums before becoming a star with “Bluer Than Blue,” following that up with “Almost Like Being in Love” and “This Night Won’t Last Forever.”

Johnson turned his attention to country music in 1985, signing with RCA Nashville and releasing “I Know You by Heart,” a duet with “Nobody” singer Sylvia that reached No. 9. He went on to score two No. 1 country hits with “Give Me Wings” and “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder,” and continued to chart until the end of the decade.

Johnson went on to release a string of less successful albums through a variety of labels, dropping his final album, Moonlit Deja Vu, in 2012 via Redhouse Records.

Rolling Stone reports that Johnson underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery in 2007, and also talked about his battle with emphysema during live shows. He is survived by his daughter and two sons, Leo and Stan.

Funeral arrangements for Michael Johnson are pending.

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